Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Daring Bakers' May Challenge



Since I joined the Daring Bakers last year, I eagerly look forward to the first of every month to see what the designated challenge will be. For May, it was constructing an Opéra Cake – a multilayered dessert with almond-based genoise, flavored syrup, rich buttercream and mousse, covered with a shiny glaze. Traditionally, Opéra Cakes are made a chocolate and coffee flavor combination; however, the rules for this challenge decreed a light-colored and light-flavored cake. So many options! This was truly a challenge!


I went back and forth among several flavor ideas – lemon, orange, strawberry, cherry, almond. Finally, I decided to make a non-fruit version, ending up with a Grasshopper Opéra Cake (or Grasshopéra Cake), which uses the traditional flavors of crème de cacao (clear variety) and crème de menthe (brilliant green variety).




Now, I suppose I could write about how challenging this challenge was, but, in truth, it was just a cake. A cake with a lot of steps, but a simple cake nonetheless.


So, the bottom line is that all the individual parts came together easily and perfectly, and the final assembly was, well, a piece of cake. I’d love to make this again, using the chocolate-coffee combination, since the white chocolate version was more sweet than I prefer. But I enjoyed the experience and this cake would certainly be a show-stopper for any occasion.


A big round of applause goes out to the May selectors: Lis of La Mia Cucina, Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice, Fran of Apples Peaches Pumpkin Pie, and Shea of Whiskful. The cake is also dedicated to Barbara of WinosandFoodies for Living Strong.



Opéra Cake


This recipe is based on Opéra Cake recipes in Dorie Greenspan’s Paris Sweets and Tish Boyle and Timothy Moriarty’s Chocolate Passion.


For the joconde

(Note: The joconde can be made up to 1 day in advance and kept wrapped at room temperate)


What you’ll need:


•2 12½ x 15½-inch (31 x 39-cm) jelly-roll pans (Note: If you do not have jelly-roll pans this size, do not fear! You can use different-sized jelly-roll pans like 10 x 15-inches.)
•a few tablespoons of melted butter (in addition to what’s called for in the ingredients’ list) and a brush (to grease the pans)
•parchment paper
•a whisk and a paddle attachment for a stand mixer or for a handheld mixer
•two mixing bowls


Ingredients:


6 large egg whites, at room temperature
2 tbsp. (30 grams) granulated sugar
2 cups (225 grams) ground blanched almonds (Note: If you do not want to use almond meal, you can use another nut meal like hazelnut. You can buy almond meal in bulk food stores or health food stores, or you can make it at home by grinding almonds in the food processor with a tablespoon or two of the flour that you would use in the cake. The reason you need the flour is to prevent the almonds from turning oily or pasty in the processor. You will need about 2 cups of blanched almonds to create enough almond meal for this cake.)

2 cups icing sugar, sifted
6 large eggs
½ cup (70 grams) all-purpose flour
3 tbsp. (1½ ounces; 45 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled


1.Divide the oven into thirds by positioning a rack in the upper third of the oven and the lower third of the oven.

2.Preheat the oven to 425◦F. (220◦C).

3.Line two 12½ x 15½- inch (31 x 39-cm) jelly-roll pans with parchment paper and brush with melted butter.

4.In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or using a handheld mixer), beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Add the granulated sugar and beat until the peaks are stiff and glossy. If you do not have another mixer bowl, gently scrape the meringue into another bowl and set aside.


5.If you only have one bowl, wash it after removing the egg whites or if you have a second bowl, use that one. Attach the paddle attachment to the stand mixer (or using a handheld mixer again) and beat the almonds, icing sugar and eggs on medium speed until light and voluminous, about 3 minutes.


6.Add the flour and beat on low speed until the flour is just combined (be very careful not to overmix here!!!).

7.Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the meringue into the almond mixture and then fold in the melted butter. Divide the batter between the pans and spread it evenly to cover the entire surface of each pan.


8.Bake the cake layers until they are lightly browned and just springy to the touch. This could take anywhere from 5 to 9 minutes depending on your oven. Place one jelly-roll pan in the middle of the oven and the second jelly-roll pan in the bottom third of the oven.


9.Put the pans on a heatproof counter and run a sharp knife along the edges of the cake to loosen it from the pan. Cover each with a sheet of parchment or wax paper, turn the pans over, and unmold.

10.Carefully peel away the parchment, then turn the parchment over and use it to cover the cakes. Let the cakes cool to room temperature.



For the syrup

(Note: The syrup can be made up to 1 week in advance and kept covered in the refrigerator.)

What you’ll need:


•a small saucepan


Ingredients:

½ cup (125 grams) water

⅓ cup (65 grams) granulated sugar
1 to 2 tbsp. of the flavoring of your choice (i.e., vanilla extract, almond extract, cognac, limoncello, coconut cream, honey etc.)

1.Stir all the syrup ingredients together in the saucepan and bring to a boil.


2.Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.


For the buttercream

(Note: The buttercream can be made up to 1 month in advance and packed in an airtight container. If made way in advance, you can freeze the buttercream. Alternatively you can refrigerate it for up to 4 days after making it. To use the buttercream simply bring it to room temperature and then beat it briefly to restore its consistency.)

What you’ll need:

•a small saucepan

•a candy or instant-read thermometer
•a stand mixer or handheld mixer
•a bowl and a whisk attachment
•rubber spatula

Ingredients:


1 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar

¼ cup (60 grams) water
seeds of one vanilla bean (split a vanilla bean down the middle and scrape out the seeds) or 1 tbsp. pure vanilla extract (Note: If you are flavouring your buttercream and do not want to use the vanilla, you do not have to. Vanilla will often enhance other flavours but if you want an intense, one-flavoured buttercream, then by all means leave it out!)
1 large egg

1 large egg yolk
1¾ sticks (7 ounces; 200 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
flavouring of your choice (a tablespoon of an extract, a few tablespoons of melted white chocolate, citrus zest, etc.)

1.Combine the sugar, water and vanilla bean seeds or extract in a small saucepan and warm over medium heat just until the sugar dissolves.


2.Continue to cook, without stirring, until the syrup reaches 225◦F (107◦C) on a candy or instant-read thermometer. Once it reaches that temperature, remove the syrup from the heat.

3.While the syrup is heating, begin whisking the egg and egg yolk at high speed in the bowl of your mixer using the whisk attachment. Whisk them until they are pale and foamy.


4.When the sugar syrup reaches the correct temperature and you remove it from the heat, reduce the mixer speed to low speed and begin slowly (very slowly) pouring the syrup down the side of the bowl being very careful not to splatter the syrup into the path of the whisk attachment. Some of the syrup will spin onto the sides of the bowl but don’t worry about this and don’t try to stir it into the mixture as it will harden!

5.Raise the speed to medium-high and continue beating until the eggs are thick and satiny and the mixture is cool to the touch (about 5 minutes or so).


6.While the egg mixture is beating, place the softened butter in a bowl and mash it with a spatula until you have a soft creamy mass.

7.With the mixer on medium speed, begin adding in two-tablespoon chunks. When all the butter has been incorporated, raise the mixer speed to high and beat until the buttercream is thick and shiny.

8.At this point add in your flavoring and beat for an additional minute or so.


9.Refrigerate the buttercream, stirring it often, until it’s set enough (firm enough) to spread when topped with a layer of cake (about 20 minutes).



For the white chocolate ganache/mousse (this step is optional – please see Elements of an Opéra Cake below)

(Note: The mousse can be made ahead and refrigerated until you’re ready to use it.)

What you’ll need:

•a small saucepan
•a mixer or handheld mixer

Ingredients:


7 ounces white chocolate (I used Ghirardelli white chocolate premium baking bar and had no issues with melting.)
1 cup plus 3 tbsp. heavy cream (35% cream)
1 tbsp. liqueur of your choice (Bailey’s, Amaretto, etc.)

1.Melt the white chocolate and the 3 tbsp. of heavy cream in a small saucepan.
2.Stir to ensure that it’s smooth and that the chocolate is melted. Add the tablespoon of liqueur to the chocolate and stir. Set aside to cool completely.

3.In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip the remaining 1 cup of heavy cream until soft peaks form.
4.Gently fold the whipped cream into the cooled chocolate to form a mousse.
5.If it’s too thin, refrigerate it for a bit until it’s spreadable.
6.If you’re not going to use it right away, refrigerate until you’re ready to use.


For the glaze
(Note: It’s best to make the glaze right when you’re ready to finish the cake.)

What you’ll need:

•a small saucepan or double boiler


Ingredients:


14 ounces white chocolate, coarsely chopped
½ cup heavy cream (35% cream)

1.Melt the white chocolate with the heavy cream. Whisk the mixture gently until smooth.
2.Let cool for 10 minutes and then pour over the chilled cake. Using a long metal cake spatula, smooth out into an even layer.

3.Place the cake into the refrigerator for 30 minutes to set.


Note: I placed the cake in the freezer while I prepared the glaze to make sure the ganache/mousse layer was thoroughly solid before pouring the warm glaze.



Assembling the Opéra Cake




(Note: The finished cake should be served slightly chilled. It can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 1 day).

Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper.

Working with one sheet of cake at a time, cut and trim each sheet so that you have two pieces (from each cake so you’ll have four pieces in total): one 10-inch (25-cm) square and one 10 x 5-inch (25 x 12½-cm) rectangle.

Step A (if using buttercream only and not making the ganache/mousse):


Place one square of cake on the baking sheet and moisten it gently with the flavoured syrup.

Spread about one-third of the buttercream over this layer.

Top with the two rectangular pieces of cake, placing them side by side to form a square. Moisten these pieces with the flavoured syrup.

Spread another third of the buttercream on the cake and then top with the third square of joconde. Use the remaining syrup to wet the joconde. Spread the remaining buttercream on top of the final layer of joconde and then refrigerate until very firm (at least half an hour).


Make the glaze and after it has cooled, pour/spread it over the top of the chilled cake. Refrigerate the cake again to set the glaze.

Serve the cake slightly chilled. This recipe will yield approximately 20 servings.

Step B (if making the ganache/mousse):

Place one square of cake on the baking sheet and moisten it gently with the flavoured syrup.

Spread about three-quarters of the buttercream over this layer.


Top with the two rectangular pieces of cake, placing them side by side to form a square. Moisten these pieces with the flavoured syrup.

Spread the remaining buttercream on the cake and then top with the third square of joconde. Use the remaining syrup to wet the joconde and then refrigerate until very firm (at least half an hour).

Prepare the ganache/mousse (if you haven’t already) and then spread it on the top of the last layer of the joconde. Refrigerate for at least two to three hours to give the ganache/mousse the opportunity to firm up.


Make the glaze and after it has cooled, pour/spread it over the top of the chilled cake. Refrigerate the cake again to set the glaze.


Before serving, trim all four sides of the cake to expose the various layers. It’s best to use a long, heated, serrated knife.

Serve the cake slightly chilled. This recipe will yield approximately 20 servings.

The Elements of an Opéra Cake:

Joconde: The base of an Opéra Cake is a thin sponge cake that is made using nut meal, traditionally almond meal (finely ground blanched almonds).

Syrup: The joconde is flavoured with a sugar syrup that can be flavoured to suit your tastes.

Buttercream: The first two layers of the joconde are covered in a rich buttercream. This particular buttercream is made with a syrup, eggs and butter.

Ganache/Mousse (optional): In some recipes, the final layer of the joconde is covered in a ganache or mousse. While not hard to make, this makes the recipe quite involved. We are giving Daring Bakers the option of either using the buttercream to cover the final layer or, if they’re feeling up to it, to go ahead and make the ganache/mousse.

Glaze: The final step to an Opéra Cake is the glaze that gives the cake a very finished and elegant appearance.





25 comments:

rainbowbrown said...

Whoa, lady this cake is beautiful. The color is grand.

Peabody said...

LOL- I love the name of this cake. That is so awesome!

Y said...

Awesome! Love the name, and the green tint! If you ever manage to get some matcha, you really should try it on your next cake too! :)

Gretchen Noelle said...

Love the name - so creative! I too am itching to make the chocoalte coffee version...yum!

Engineer Baker said...

Beautiful cake, creative name, and awesome flavor combo - you've hit 'em all! I agree though - I'm going for the traditional flavors with the next one.

Bumblebutton said...

Nice job...and very clever too!

Heather said...

I love grasshopera! Your cake is so beautiful!

~Amber~ said...

What a beautiful cake! Great job.

breadchick said...

Love the green and the play on words! At first, I wasn't sure I was going to enjoy this challenge all that much but after I got going it really was quite fun!

Vera said...

What an interesting solution! The cake looks great!

maybelles parents said...

that is a beuatiful cake.

Susan/Wild Yeast said...

The "grasshopera" combination sounds wonderful, and your layers are prefect!

Shari said...

Very creative - I love your "grasshopera"!
Shari@Whisk: a food blog

Megan said...

Wow, your stuff always looks so great. The cake was absolutely perfect. I wish mine had turned out that way!

Andrea said...

Wow, what a great flavor combination. Your finished cake looks awesome!

Mevrouw Cupcake said...

Love the green glaze and the play on words! You've done a great job!

Christine said...

A beautiful green color! Bravo on a perfect cake!

Deborah said...

Wow - your glaze is so perfectly smooth! Great job. I love the grasshopper version!

StickyGooeyCreamyChewy said...

Love the grasshopper flavors. Very creative! Your cake looks so pretty too! Great job!

Dolores said...

Grasshoppera... I LOVE it! Great job; glorious results!

madcapcupcake said...

Your cake is absolutely gorgeous, I really love the green!...and what a wonderfully inspired choice of flavours with the grasshopper theme, crème de cacao and crème de menthe, must have been amazing - really fun cake, love it :)

Jaime said...

love the color! LOL at the cut cake pic above :)

Barbara said...

Your cake looks beautiful.

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Love your cake. Great flavors.
The freezer was the place before the warm glaze!!

Andrea said...

Your gorgeous glaze gives me hope that one day I can make a pretty opera cake!
BTW deadly funny the photo of your cut cake.